A little over five years ago, Red River Tea Room (RRTR) opened its doors, and would go on to become one of the most iconic bars in Hanoi; a uniquely chilled-out place with great staff, great drinks and Frank the dog.
Today, the location may have changed, but the core concept remains the same — and if Frank’s enthusiasm is anything to go by, the new location adds a whole new level of awesome to RRTR.
Back Room Booze
Although you can find tea on the menu, the name is a bit misleading without a bit of background.
“Back in the prohibition days, many American bars reopened as ‘tea rooms’,” explains owner James “Jim” Brennan. “But if you knew the owner, you could get in the back room and get some alcohol.”
And although Hanoi sits in the Red River delta, the bar is actually named after a now-closed 1920s watering hole in Georgia, US.
“This location really fits with the old tea room theme, because it’s kind of hidden,” says Jim. “You need to make a bit of effort to get in, but once you do, there’s a big reward.”
Nooks and Crannies
The most obvious aspect of the upgraded setting is the large outdoor seating area.
Situated on the bank of Dai Nghi Tam Lake, the low-hanging trees, not unlike an emo kid’s fringe, let in just enough of the outside world while still affording peace and privacy.
There are a number of nooks and crannies, with a bunch of benches, high and low tables and comfortable seating where guests can relax with a drink.
If conversation is running a bit dry, RRTR keeps a selection of board games on hand, which are free for anyone to use.
Dog lovers, who are welcome to bring their own pet, may find a kind of therapeutic joy in tossing a stick for Frank to chase — but if it’s an extra hot or humid day, don’t take it personally if he decides to just keep it.
Cementing its reputation as one of the most chilled and welcoming bars in the city, you are even free to bring your own food or order a delivery. RRTR has a few Tay Ho food favourites on speed-dial, and its own in-house food is soon to undergo a complete overhaul.
Music and Beer
The new RRTR is more of a destination now, rather than a place to stop for a quick beer. Jim reckons it will also become a popular place to make an inexpensive start to a weekend or night out.
The drinks menu features a selection of local and imported beers, both craft and mass-produced. The frozen beer mug of home-made red sangria (VND90,000) may prove too good to ignore, though.
There are over 40 varieties of whisky, bourbon and scotch starting from VND50,000 a glass, a modest cocktail list starting at VND75,000 and a respectable wine list, with four reds and four whites available by the glass from VND60,000.
“We also have a very popular Sunday night quiz,” says Jim. “It’s VND20,000 to enter, and the winning team takes home all the entrance money.” Some of the events at RRTR, such as story slams and wine tastings, also act as charity events.
When it first opened, a key aim of the business was to give jobs and training to disadvantaged youths. As a result, many of the current staff have been there since it opened five years ago. Or maybe they just like playing with Frank.
Red River Tea Room is at Ngo so 1 Au Co, 19 Xom Chua Kim Lien, Tay Ho, Hanoi. Open daily from 11am until 11pm. For more information (and a map), visit facebook.com/winepub or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Julie Vola